Why I’ve Decided to Teach My 8-Year-Old How To Defend Herself Against Predators
By Quentin Janes
Photo © ksenia_she/Twenty20
May 26, 2021
I love my daughter with a passion.
But as the years have drifted by, I have become sympathetic to some of the old dad clichés. Namely, that they are terrified of letting their daughter out of the house, in fear of them being corrupted by some no-good slickster.
When I was a young man prying girls from their father's arms, I thought dads were overprotective — but now I understand.
I have almost no fear in this life — not death, not pain, not evil. But I do have one predominant fear: losing my wife and daughter. It's something I could not bear.
If this dad is the "good guy" he says he is, he believes he needs to advocate for women like his daughters. Read that here.
My Two Rules
Yes, there are indeed only two. And they are: “You have to be happy and you have to outlive me.”
That's it. She doesn't have to go to college, have kids or get married. To me, none of that is relevant. She has two jobs: stay happy, outlive Daddy.
Is This Too Much? Could I Go Too Far?
I understand how expecting happiness and longevity could seem like an overreach. And I don't want to burden her to the point of being unhappy, as this would violate the first law. I don't want it to feel like she's failed before she's even begun.
I don't want to shelter her so much that she misses out on opportunities, like the chance to find one of her callings in life. I don't want to stand in her way of seeing the many interesting things life has to offer.
So I find myself arriving at a father's dilemma: I want my child to stay safe and happy, but I don't want to get those at the expense of her freedom.
But in many ways, I know where all of this comes from. As a woman or a child, sometimes you don't ask for violence — it seeks you out through no fault of your own. People sometimes hurt women because they are women, and they prey on children because they are children. My daughter is both, so yeah — if I can help my daughter achieve fulfillment in life, and be safe in the process, I'm going to try.
This mother credits the #MeToo movement for giving her daughters opportunities she didn't. Read about that here.
She's an eight-year-old girl
I detest violence. I have always looked at it as a manifestation of weakness. If you are driven to violence then it is because of some weakness on your part. That is, of course, excepting self-defence.
Alas, my daughter is an eight-year-old. So, these conversations and these challenges need to be discussed in a way she can understand. I don't want to scare her, but I want to help her protect herself. I want to tell her everything. I want to tell her about child molesters and school shooters and gang warfare and misogyny, but I also know that all of that information is a lot for a young child to comprehend. It would be a brutal tragedy to me if my daughter grew up timid and fearful.
I believe that fortune favours the bold, not those who hide in their houses hoping the evils of society cannot find them. But again, she's eight. She gets freaked out by things like cartoon dragons and robots that turn evil. Obviously I cannot divulge the depths of depravity that she will come across in her later years. Yet I believe I have to give her something.
So, I keep the ideas light.
For example: “Bad guys” is a blanket statement for gang activity and those who perpetrate it.
"We practice breaking arm and wrist locks. We practice momentum throws and endurance."
“Child stealers,” as far as she is concerned, steal children and then sell them to people as slaves. Robbers are just that: they only want your money. And drunk drivers are those who are the greatest threat to her.
Eventually I plan to bring her up to date on the heights of human cruelty by showing her the Ken Burns' documentary Vietnam or Robert Powell's World War II in Colour. But that is many years in the future.
So, for right now, we train for real-life scenarios, and we have fun doing it. I bought a punching bag. She barely uses it, because she finds it much more entertaining to pound away on me. I can't blame her, we are roughly the same size and shape but the bag doesn't say “ooof” when you punch it in stomach.
We have fun and we stay fit.
I understand that as a child, in the extremely unlikely event that someone does try to accost her, she will be working at a huge size disadvantage and likely from a mental state of sheer panic. Assuming these things, I make the ideas simple. We practice breaking arm and wrist locks. We practice momentum throws and endurance. If an adult tries to attack my child, I have taught her to turn the battle, from one of force, one she cannot win, to one of endurance — which she can win.
We call it “one hit and split.” We have found, through hilarious testing, that if she has a three-second head start on me, she can outlast me running until I pass out on the sidewalk. Ideally a good knee to the groin and breaking a wrist lock can buy her those three seconds. Training can get those few seconds down to one.
Girls face a lot of gendered expectations, but this mom is not prepared to raise her daughter to be polite. Read that here.
The Benefit of Games
We get more than just fitness from our games. Breaking wrist locks, and learning how to dump fully grown men on their faces, empowers my daughter.
“Predators aren't looking for a fight, they are looking for food,” I have told my daughter many times. “Predators don't like food that is fit and aware and confident, all it means is they have to expel twice the effort to eat the same amount.”
I think her confidence in her ability to protect herself protects her more.
But there is one thing I am always sure to make clear: violence is a last resort only. We practice something we call “de-escalate, escape and avoid.” It means that if she has any of these options, then she is morally obligated to take them.
Our Big Picture
As Canadians, I believe we live in one of the safest places on the planet. I am no fool — we aren't cautiously walking through our day-to-day, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The chance of a random act of violence coming to hurt my daughter is exceedingly low. Yet I remind myself: The only thing psychopaths need to feed on helpless innocent people is for those innocent people to be helpless.
If that anomalous moment occurs and my daughter has the chance to save someone's life or her own, I see it as important to give her the skills and the tools to do it.
Because until help arrives, one day, she may have to be her own first responder.
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